I grew up Catholic but when I came to college I had to decide whether I would live my faith nominally or in a committed fashion. Unfortunately, I was drifting towards the former. But during my first year in college, I had a conversion in which God called me to embrace the Catholic faith with its teachings. At the time, I had no problem believing in God, but the question was whether I could fully accept the Church and her teachings, especially when society was saying that some of those teachings were backwards and wrong. God won out and I accepted the Church’s teachings as His own. This was a difficult process interiorly for me, but it was also a time of grace and growth.
After committing to the faith, I started to discern a call to the priesthood and/or religious life. Although raised Catholic, I really didn’t know much about the different forms of priesthood and religious life, that is, about being a diocesan priest vs. a religious priest and about the different kinds of religious life out there. But as I neared graduation fellow students knew of my interest in a religious vocation and one of them took the liberty of passing my name on to the vocation director at St. Procopius Abbey. She knew of the abbey because her father cooked food for the monks. The vocation director contacted me and we arranged for me to go on a five day retreat at the abbey.
The retreat was offered with “no strings attached,” simply as an opportunity for discernment for young men thinking about a religious vocation. Early in the retreat, in fact, I made sure to clarify to the vocation director that I was not thinking of becoming a monk. God seemed to be calling me to another form of religious life. But a few days later, I sensed that God was calling me to join the monastery! This was certainly not the usual way discernment works, for it happened so quickly – but God is free to do as He wishes!
During my retreat, I enjoyed the freedom to pray privately and in community. Communal prayer was indeed a new experience and I found it very enriching to pray the psalms with thirty other men. All this led to a lot of fervor and during the retreat I began to think eagerly of how I might serve the Lord. As I thought about the options, God put the idea of joining this monastery in my heart and I couldn't shake the sense that He was saying to me, "Join here."
After talking to the vocation director, I was only more convinced that God was calling me to the abbey. So, I began the process of applying. One does not make a final commitment to join right then and there, of course. There are over four years of formation in which to discern whether to take final vows. Through those years I learned more about the monastic life and what God was calling me to do through it. In 2000 I took my final vows, thankful to God for this opportunity to serve Him and His people through prayer and the other ministries the abbey engages in.
Abbot Austin in Sanyi, Taiwan, in a woodwork shop